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Nine Ways to Cross a River

Midstream Reflections on Swimming and Getting There from Here

By Akiko Busch

From Thoreau to Edward Abbey to Annie Dillard, American writers have looked at nature and described the sublime and transcendent. Now comes Akiko Busch, who finds multitudes of meaning in the practice of swimming across rivers. The notion that rivers divide us is old and venerated, but they also limn our identities and mark the passage of time; they anchor communities and connect one to another. And, in the hands of writer and swimmer Akiko Busch, they are living archives of human behavior and natural changes.

After a transformative swim across the Hudson just before September 11, Busch undertook to explore eight of America’s great waterways: the Hudson (twice), the Delaware, the Connecticut, the Susquehanna, the Monongahela, the Mississippi, the Ohio, and the Current. She observes each river’s goings-on and reflects on its history (human and natural) and possible futures. Some of the rivers have rebounded from past industrial misuse; others still struggle with pollution and waste. The swims are also opportunities to muse on the ordinary passages faced by most of us―the death of a parent, raising children, becoming older―and the ways in which the rhythms and patterns of the natural world can offer reassurance, ballast and inspiration. A deeply moving exploration of the themes of renewal and reclamation at midlife, Nine Ways to Cross a River is a book to be treasured and given to friends.


“This inspiring little book shows how this world will be saved: by tens of millions of little efforts, in the end succeeding where big expensive efforts of power-hungry men have failed.” —Pete Seeger

“A graceful meditation on open-water swimming, [exploring] the power of quiet solitude. … Ms. Busch … has rightly been compared to Annie Dillard and Edward Abbey.” —John Kaag, reviewing How to Disappear in Wall Street Journal

“Beautifully written. It’s compelling, transcendental, reflective, and just pure fun … so many layers of understanding and clarity and philosophy and poetry. At times, it seems as if Akiko is immersed in the water and is singing along with the river’s song through her melodic voice.” —Lynne Cox, author of Swimming to Antarctica

“Busch’s journey across these rivers becomes an elegant metaphor for life. … She shares delightful lore about these important waterways, insinuating aspects of each river’s particular history and beauty.” Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Writing with a swimmer’s economy, propulsion, and buoyancy, Busch muses with quietly thrilling originality and resonance over the profound metaphors and life lessons rivers embody. In all, a beautiful and gracefully enlightening book of riverine reflection.” Booklist

“Memorable … stories of transformation and renewal … solitary journeys exploring an internal landscape as well as connecting to the natural world around her.” Kirkus Reviews

“Just two weeks before 9/11, Busch swam across her first river and found the experience so transformative that she made it an annual summer ritual. From the Hudson to the Mississippi, her elegant little book chronicles the eight rivers she crossed (she swam one river twice) and celebrates their power to connect and heal us.” Library Journal, “Best Book of 2007”

“Busch brings the reader into the textures of the waters and the conversations she has on the riverbanks. … With equal parts sensual description and environmental reporting, the author converts us, too, into yearning for clean rivers and the opportunity to swim in them. … Busch’s telling of her swim in [the Current River] has to be among the best travel writing I’ve ever read. She makes me want to go there.” Chicago Tribune

“Gentle and elegiac …poignant … refreshingly optimistic … achieves a quiet eloquence. [Busch possesses] a gift for nature writing that brings to mind Annie Dillard and Ed Abbey.” Los Angeles Times

“In a way, Busch swims for all of us, bringing another perspective, one drenched in the essence of these waterways. … She swims and thinks, making intelligent associations as she makes her way, sometimes whisked considerable distances downriver, always walking away dripping with insights.” —Hartford Courant

“Graceful … Nine Ways to Cross a River is lovely, thoughtful, and economical. It puts rivers right where rivers belong—in the forefront of our thinking.” Orion

“The beauty of Busch’s book is found in the thoughts and memories she enjoys as she swims. Her reflections on being a mother, daughter, and a friend flow easily and convincingly.” —Portland (Ore.) Tribune

“A great read. Busch’s fluid, reflective prose carries the reader along as pleasurably as a gentle current.” —Anne Mackin, author of Americans and Their Land

Nine Ways to Cross a River
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Bloomsbury, 2007

A Library Journal Best Book of 2007

Visit akikobusch.com

Read Akiko Busch’s New York Sunday Times opinion pieces about

how to be invisible (February 8, 2015)
fear (October 26, 2014)
eels (March 30, 2013)
“Measuring a Sycamore” tree (August 10, 2013)

Also by Akiko Busch

How to Disappear (2019)

The Incidental Steward: Reflections on Citizen Science (2013)

Patience: Taking Time in an Age of Acceleration (2010)

Geography of Home (1999)